Bill to help first responders fight PTSD moves forward in Florida Legislature

ORLANDO, Fla. — A bill filed two weeks ago in the Florida Senate now has a companion bill in the House, bringing help for first responders dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder a step closer in the state.

First responders have to deal with situations and see things that most people never will, Dr. Deborah Beidel, a University of Central Florida psychology professor, said.

Tragedies like the Pulse nightclub massacre have a lasting effect on first responders and it is important to treat psychological trauma as you would physical injuries, she said.

“Just as physical injuries may affect the body, having to witness some of the events that happen in these types of trauma certainly create psychological stress,” Beidel said. “We like to think of it as a stress injury.”

The bills making their way through the legislature would make it easier for first responders to get time off and get mental health treatment.

Currently, state law does not require workers’ compensation cover PTSD issues because it’s not a physical injury.

Medical science shows limits like that are outdated, Beidel said.

Mental health workers now believe more law enforcement officers die from PTSD-related suicide than violent crime, she said.

Opponents of the bill argue that because there is no biological test for PTSD, first responders could scam the system.

Beidel said while a lack of definitive tests for PTSD is an issue, it is still important for first responders suffering from symptoms get the help they need.

It is also vital to remove the stigma of asking for mental health treatment due to PTSD, she said.

“I think a lot of people are worried that it might be the end of their job, or the end of their career,” she said.